Dried shrimp patties cooked in a sauce with cactus (nopales) is one of those dishes that are mostly seasonal; they appear around Lent and Christmas time. The process needed to prepare them may seem long, but almost anyone can make this dish. The dried shrimp flavor is addictive, and the texture of the crispy and sponge-like patties makes you want to keep eating them, even without the sauce. As with many other recipes in Mexico, it changes from one place to another: some will cook them with Mole Poblano sauce, others will use a Pasilla pepper sauce, and my favorite version is with Pipian sauce. Today, however, we are making these patties with one of the most popular sauces, Guajillo sauce.
Even though these dried shrimp patties are popular this time of the year, you can make them year around. I know that many people cook them in order to follow traditions that have been carried on from generation to generation, and will only prepare them for their Friday meal during the days of Lent, or in the course of the Holy Week, when many Catholic Mexicans will abstain from eating red meat.
- 5 Guajillo Peppers, cleaned and deveined.
- 2 Arbol peppers*, stems removed
- 1 plum tomato
- 2 oz. Dried shrimp
- 6 saltine crackers
- 3 Eggs, separated into whites and yokes
- ¼ cup of oil, plus 1 tablespoon to cook the salsa
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 2 ½ cups chopped nopales, cooked and rinsed.
- 1 small branch of cilantro
- Salt and pepper to season
- You can omit the use of the arbol peppers. That is a personal choice of mine. I like to add them to give a little bit of spiciness to the dish; you can add more to your own liking.
- Please, do not use the powdered form, sold as “Dried Shrimp Powder”. It is very salty and lacks flavor.
1. Place guajillo peppers, arbol peppers and plum tomato in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium heat and cook until they are fully cooked and soft. About 15 minutes.
2. While the peppers and tomatoes are cooking, slightly toast the dried shrimp on a griddle over medium heat, turning once. This step will take about 2-3 minutes. Let them cool for a couple of minutes and then remove the shrimps’ heads and legs.
3. Place the dried shrimp and saltine crackers into your blender pitcher and process until they form a fluffy powder. (See picture) Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites into a foamy mixture, using an electric mixer until they form stiff peaks. Then, stir in the egg yolks one by one, beating until you have a fluffy batter. Now, gently stir in the mix of dried shrimp powder and saltines. Season with a little pinch of salt (remember that the shrimp is already salty) and pepper.
5. To cook the patties, heat ¼ cup of vegetable oil in a large frying pan at medium heat. To form the patties, I use a tablespoon and scoop each spoonful of batter into the hot oil. Once the batter is cooking, I shape them using a wooden spatula. But, if you don’t care about the shape, and just spoon the batter in, they will have an oval shape, like my patties. Cook for about 2 minutes per side until they have a golden color. Use a spoon or spatula to spoon some of the oil on the patties’ sides, in order to have an even cooking. Once the patties are cooked, place on a cooling rack with a paper napkin underneath.
6. To make the salsa: Place guajillo and arbol peppers, along with the tomato, garlic, oregano and cumin into your blender, and process until you have a very smooth sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet, and pour the sauce in using a sieve. Cook for 5 minutes.
7. Add the cooked nopales, and stir. Finally, add the dried shrimp patties and the cilantro branch, taste to adjust seasonings, and enjoy.
Serve with rice, and warm corn tortillas.